Aches and Pains and Privilege

September 12, 2019 in About Kelly, Musings

I have a great orthopedist who has done wonders for me over the years including three knee surgeries, diagnosing my labrum tear and brachial tendonitis, and various other odds and ends.

I have incurred quite a few injuries over the years because I’m very physically active, both in terms of doing things like major house projects and on the exercise side with running, weightlifting, biking, punching bag work, and a dozen or so other fitness regime elements. I’ve torn cartilage, pulled muscles, broken bones, etc. The current crop includes a couple of lightly fractured knuckles, fading brachial tendonitis from last summer, tennis elbow, and a spot of carpal tunnel, all of which requires a daily PT regime. It sounds worse than it is, and now that I’m done with the heavy house reconstruction stuff until next spring, most of it should clear up in a few weeks.

My injuries had me ruminating on privilege today while I was cleaning up from the demolition work I just finished in the storeroom. I was feeling a bit on the stiff and sore side as I was hauling bags of broken plaster up the stairs. You see, when I say that I have a great orthopedist, it elides a couple of things. One, obviously, is the privilege of good insurance.

Another, much subtler, issue is that I have an orthopedist who is great for me but who might not work as well for everyone. I think the fact that he’s an excellent surgeon and diagnostician will work pretty well for all of his patients. His manner, maybe not as much. He’s brusque and smart and he doesn’t pull punches about what he thinks you need to do, or risks and potential for recovery. That works well for me, but I’m a middle-aged, cis, white guy who has always been taken seriously by my medical professionals.

I know that I will be listened to and respected simply because of who I am and how I project myself. I know that the reason he is being brusque with me is because he’s brusque, not because he’s reacting negatively to some part of my identity. I know it’s not personal. Not all of his patients have that privilege. I also have the benefit of arriving at his office for an appointment without having to first plow through a bunch of institutional and societal barriers that might cause me to be worn down beyond the injuries that brought me there. I arrive without the baggage that might make it harder for me to handle someone telling me what I need to do in a not particularly gentle way. I have a great deal more patience for this particular bit of mild friction in the machinery of my life simply because I have so much less friction everywhere else.

It’s a thing I always remember when I recommend my orthopedist. I tell people he’s a really good doctor, and a good surgeon, and I recommend him very highly, but I always note that his bedside manner is definitely not for everyone. I also try to remember that part of why he works so well for me is because the cultural baggage that I bring with me everywhere I go is a lot lighter than that carried by so many of those around me.